|Summary||According to the third edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1965) the adjective "eugenic" means "pertaining or adopted to the production of fine offspring". This is the "thin", abstract meaning of "eugenic", which carries no moral or historical connotation. In this sense, the ante-natal selection of the genetic characteristics of living beings (genetic selection) and its improvement (gene-therapy or genetic enhancement) all qualify as forms of eugenics. The word is used in this morally neutral way by contemporary proponents of "liberal eugenics". However, the word "Eugenics" may also refer to the core ideas of Francis Galton (who invented the word) and his immediate followers; or to the specific policies adopted mainly in Europe and in the United States, roughly from the beginning of the twentieth century to the end of WW2. Because such policies, including forced sterilization in US and Nazi Germany, are nowadays widely regarded as immoral, the term "eugenics" is often intended as having an intrinsic negative connotation. For that reason, some authors reject "eugenic talk" and the identification of human genetic enhancement and eugenics. This category includes works on both early eugenics and comparisons between early eugenics, traditional eugenic themes, and liberal eugenics.|
Harris 1993 argues that even if gene-therapy for removing disability or for enhancing normal human traits is a form of eugenics, it is morally sound. He identifies the morally unsound aspect of eugenics with the idea that "those who are genetically weak should be discouraged from reproducing". He objects that eugenics properly understood maintains that "everyone should be discouraged from reproducing children who will be significantly harmed by their genetic constitution". Thus, eugenics through gene-therapy is morally sound because, unlike past eugenics, it might "enable individuals with genetic defects to be sure of having healthy rather than harmed children". Wikler 1999 provides a short history of eugenic movements and argues that we must learn from it, for instance by avoiding genetic determinism, class and race biases and the conviction that genetic improvement overrides the freedom of the individual whether and with whom to procreate. Wikler tries to identify the "original sin" in Eugenics, which leads him to analyze and discard many usual objections against it. Agar 2008 is important as perhaps the first book that uses the expression "eugenics" with a positive connotation coherently throughout. Agar endorses eugenics achieved by parents in a society which respects reproductive liberties since, unlike traditional eugenics, it is compatible with a pluralism of different conceptions about human flourishing. Wilkinson 2010 rejects the identification of "eugenics" and moral claims made in the context of the bioethical debate concerning pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and screening. He claims that it is wrong to the emotional power of "eugenic talk" to bypass rational critical faculties.
|Introductions||Harris 1993 Chadwick 2001 Wikler 1999 Wilkinson 2008 Buchanan 2007|
- Cloning (180)
- Genetic Engineering (114)
- Genetic Testing (168)
- Human Genetic Modification (103)
- Genetic Ethics, Misc (107)
Using PhilPapers from home?
Create an account to enable off-campus access through your institution's proxy server.
Monitor this page
Be alerted of all new items appearing on this page. Choose how you want to monitor it:
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
Learn more about PhilPapers